Dumaguete: Million-dollar dream, cheap pedicures, ‘nice people’

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Gavin Hughes enjoying a pedicure on the boulevard.

Sitting on a bench on the boulevard on a muggy afternoon, Gavin Hughes looked pleased as he propped up his foot on a stool getting a pedicure.

This is not new to Hughes who has lived in the Philippines off and on since he was one year old. His father, an American, was in the Peace Corps and took his family with him on his many postings.

“This is the life,” Hughes said beaming. “You should get one. It is the best 80-cent pedicure you’ll ever get.”

Dumaguete City, he said, has always had a place in his heart — and not only because of the cheap grooming services available. Six years ago he moved back from Blaine, Wash., to Negros for good, got married, had two children and now lives the island lifestyle he always dreamed of having. His wife is from Bacong, a small town five miles south of the city, and they live in Calindagan near the Robinson’s Place Mall.

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Dumaguete has a reputation as a gentle city. Local families spend evenings on the boulevard.

He is a businessman with a lofty dream. He has been buying beach property in Dauin so he could build waterfront condominiums.

“When I get everything lined up,” he said, “we will have some of the best beachfront properties in Asia. They will be $10- $14-million condominiums.”

Hughes talks about his project with a ton of confidence and fancies his chances for success because of where he lives. He says he absolutely loves living in Dumaguete City.

“It’s got its ups and downs,” Hughes said. “But I’ve learned to take the good with the bad.”

Lately it seems “things have gotten worse — the traffic, noise and garbage,” he said. “But at the end of the day it is about the people.”

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The beauty of Negros Oriental is stunning. Pair that with the people’s hospitality, Hughes may be on to something.

It is that realization that has Hughes bullish on his town’s potential. To put things in the proper perspective in his life, he takes his family out of the country for a trip at least once a year, he said. “It’s nice to be able to go somewhere and get away from here.”

But his heart remains with the City of Gentle People because “everywhere else people make you feel like a foreigner. Here we have nice people.

“You can be here for five minutes and you’re already an insider,” he adds.

He explains that most of the growth and issues in Dumaguete have arrived in the last six years. Dumaguete’s large population of highly educated, English-speaking people has made it attractive to companies seeking to open call centers in the Philippines. He said the labor is cheap and it is still much more affordable to live here compared to Manila and Cebu.

“Its phenomenal what has happened,” he said. “All these things have brought a lot of change to this place. That has raised the bar on the economy.”

Business may be good but he still laments the loss of Dumaguete’s small-town charm.

“You can go to Siquijor and experience what Dumaguete was 20 years ago,” he said.

To view more photos of Dumaguete City go here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dmontesino/sets/72157632826604060/

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